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"Pogy" redirects here. For the United States Navy submarines of that name, see USS Pogy. For U.S. Navy ships named Menhaden, see USS Menhaden.
Gulf menhaden, Brevoortia patronus
Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus
Pacific menhaden, Ethmidium maculatum

Menhaden, also known as mossbunker, bunker, and pogy, are forage fish of the genera Brevoortia and Ethmidium, two genera of marine fish in the family Clupeidae. Menhaden is a blend of poghaden (pogy for short) and an Algonquian word akin to Narragansett munnawhatteaûg, derived from munnohquohteau ‘he fertilizes’, referring to the fish's use as fertilizer.[1] It is generally thought that Pilgrims were advised by Tisquantum (also known as Squanto) to plant menhaden with their crops.[1]

Physical characteristics[edit]

Menhaden are flat, have soft flesh, and a deeply forked tail. They rarely exceed 15 inches (38 cm) in length, and have a varied weight range. Gulf menhaden and Atlantic menhaden are small oily-fleshed fish, bright silver and characterized by a series of smaller spots behind the main, Humeral spot. They tend to have larger scales than Yellowfin menhaden and Finescale menhaden. In addition, Yellowfin menhaden tail rays are a bright yellow in contrast to those of the Atlantic menhaden.


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Commercial fish
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Large pelagic
billfish, bonito
mackerel, salmon
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menhaden, sardine
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pollock, ray
carp, tilapia

Recent taxonomic work using DNA comparisons have organized the North American menhadens into large-scaled (Gulf and Atlantic menhaden) and small-scaled (Finescale and Yellowfin menhaden) designations.[2]

The menhaden consist of two genera and seven species:


  • The various species of menhaden occur anywhere from estuarine waters outwards to the continental shelf. Menhaden grow in less saline waters of estuaries and can be found in bays, lagoons, as well as river mouths. Adults appear to prefer water temperatures near 18 °C.


Menhaden are omnivorous filter feeders, feeding by straining food particles from water. They travel in large, slow-moving, and tightly packed schools with open mouths. Filter feeders typically take into their open mouths "materials in the same proportions as they occur in ambient waters".[3] Menhaden have two main sources of food: phytoplankton and zooplankton. A menhaden’s diet varies considerably over the course of its lifetime, and is directly related to its size. The smallest menhaden, typically those under one year old, eat primarily phytoplankton. After that age, adult menhaden gradually shift to a diet comprised almost exclusively of zooplankton.[4]

Menhaden Uses[edit]

  • Bait
  • Animal Feed Additive
  • Food Fortification
  • Fish Oil Supplements

Human intake[edit]


Global commercial capture of menhaden in million tonnes 1950–2010[5]
Capture of menhaden in 2010 reported by the FAO[5]

According to James Kirkley of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), there are two established commercial fisheries for menhaden. The first is known as a reduction fishery. According to Omega Protein Corporation, this fishery's output produces omega-3 oils for human consumption, and for aquaculture, swine, and other livestock feeds.[6] The second is known as a bait fishery, which harvests menhaden for the use of both commercial and recreational fishermen. Commercial fishermen, especially crabbers in the Chesapeake Bay area, use menhaden to bait their traps or hooks. The recreational fisherman use ground menhaden chum as a fish attractant, and whole fish as bait. The total harvest is approximately 500 million fish per year.[7] Atlantic menhaden are harvested using purse seines.

As food[edit]

Purse seine boats encircling a school of menhaden

Menhaden were prized in America for their delicate but rich flavors in the mid-18th century.[citation needed]

Presently, menhaden are an important input for fishmeal and fish oil, with both of these "reduction" products being used as feed for livestock and aquaculture, such as salmon, shrimp, tilapia, catfish. Fish oil made from menhaden is also used as a dietary supplement, and as a raw material for products such as lipstick.[7] Atlantic menhaden are an important link between plankton and upper level predators. Because of their filter feeding abilities, "menhaden consume and redistribute a significant amount of energy within and between Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries, and the coastal ocean."[8] Because they play this role, and their abundance, menhaden are an invaluable prey species for many predatory fish, such as striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, flounder, tuna, Drum (fish), and sharks. They are also a very important food source for many birds, including egrets, ospreys, seagulls, northern gannets, pelicans, and herons.

Two companies harvest menhaden in the United States:

  1. Omega Protein Inc., Houston, Texas, with operations in Virginia, Louisiana, and Mississippi which takes 90% of the national total;[7] and
  2. Daybrook Fisheries, Empire, Louisiana.


  1. ^ a b Richard Conniff. "The Oiliest Catch". Conservation Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-18. 
  2. ^ Anderson, Joel (2007). "Systematics of the North American menhadens: molecular evolutionary reconstructions in the genus Brevoortia (Clupeiformes: Clupeidae)" (PDF). Fishery Bulletin 105 (3): 368–378. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission 2002
  4. ^ Friedland, Kevin; Gobler, Christopher; Lynch, Patrick, “Time Series Mesoscale Response of Atlantic Menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus to Variation in Plankton Abundances,” Journal of Coastal Research, February 11, 2011
  5. ^ a b Based on data sourced from the relevant FAO Species Fact Sheets
  6. ^ "Omega Protein (home page)". Omega Protein 
  7. ^ a b c Greenberg, Paul (15 December 2009). "A Fish Oil Story". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
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  8. ^ "Maryland Department of Natural Resources". 2012-12-31. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 


Fisheries Commission. Available: smentReport.pdf

External links[edit]